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By Matt Mershon
JANESVILLE - [name withheld], 35, sits in jail after committing his sixth OWI, and now he's on a registry bringing awareness to the problem of repeat drunk drivers. It's called Project Sober Streets, a program of the Janesville Police department that acts similar to a sex offender registry. After getting five OWI's, an offender is placed on the list for neighbors to see.
- Five? Why not just one?
The list was created back in 2010 and now lists 51 offenders just in the city of Janesville. The listing is valid for five years, post the offender's crime because Janesville Police Chief David Moore, says it's likely recent offenders will offend again. The list is in map form on the police department's website, allowing viewers to see if a repeat drunk driver lives right next door.
- But where is the list for all other ex-felons? Like gang members, drug dealers/users, thieves, murderers, etc?
"We have a responsibility to our community to allow people to stay safe and Project Sober Streets strips away that anonymity of drunk drivers," said Chief Moore.
Project Sober Streets is the first program of its kind in the nation. The website provides links for each offender, that when clicked on provide the offenders address, picture, how many OWI's the person has, whether they're on parole and if their license has been revoked. Sober Streets acts as a shaming tool for offenders, but also acts as a police aid.
"Because they know where they live, what they look like, they know they're not supposed to be drinking, in bars, they probably aren't supposed to be driving if they have a revoked driver's license, so neighbors can give us a call if they see something like that occurring so they can assist law enforcement," said Moore.
The project goes a step further, making public awareness a priority. Janesville offenders, with four or more offenses, will have a press release made up regarding their crime to be sent out to local television and radio stations.
"The exposure of the number and level of arrests that we make really starts that social change," said Moore.
"That's what this project and the hard work of our officers are doing; it's the effort that we're making here."
Moore says there's a need for social change in a state culture caught up in excessive drinking. The Wisconsin State Legislature helped to beef up state laws when it comes to drunk driving. As of 2007, if a driver is caught in Wisconsin committing their fourth OWI, it counts as a felony charge. However first time offenders still get not much more than a slap on the wrist - a first time offense is just a ordinance violation and not a state law.
- Drunk drivers kill a ton of people each day in this country. Why aren't they on the list after the first offense like the ex-sex offenders list? And why isn't it a felony?
One big factor that's still not a part of Wisconsin's journey to sobriety is the roadside sobriety checkpoint, which supposedly goes against Wisconsin's state constitution.
"I know that [sobriety checkpoints] are successful in other states," said Moore.
"I think it's all in how [the checkpoints] are setup and if people are being fair with the implementation of it. Do I think it could be of assistance? Yes," said Moore.
Moore says the state house and senate are supposed to bring up new drunk driving legislation this year to help beef up the 2007 laws. However, Moore says sobriety checkpoints are still not going to be brought into law.